Author’s Note: Robert had to answer that question. Really, he did.
“I suppose I will have to give you my military records and let you compare every scar, then, since I can offer you no other proof of my identity.”
His words caused her to flush, discomfited, and he should regret that, but he did not. Her words had made him angry. He was not lying. Why would he? Of what possible advantage could it be to steal the identity of a man who had abandoned his wife?
“You could ask my father. I suppose his evidence might be considered biased, but there are people who know him who would confirm his word and mine.”
She nodded. “I don’t—I never had any doubt of your honesty or your identity, not until I spoke just now. In retrospect, it seems foolish. I must be the most trusting fool on the planet.”
He shook his head. “I do not believe that. I want you to be right about trusting me, at least.”
She frowned. “Why would you want that?”
“I do not much like being called a liar. I don’t like being considered untrustworthy. I do, even though I have many faults and can hardly deny them, like to think of myself as an honorable man. I know that it might not seem that way, not with the way that we met or the way that I have reacted to all of these discoveries and the pressure that comes with it. I… I do not think myself ready for or capable of marrying anyone. I… suppose that sounds cowardly.”
She bit her lip. “Robbie, I do think you are rather inclined to call yourself a coward when you have no reason to do so. I do not know what you did in the war or why you think that you must treat yourself that way, but this situation is not… Why should anyone feel they are ready for a marriage that is being forced upon them? Why should we feel that is acceptable and that we are the ones in the wrong for shying away from the prospect? You do not know me, I do not know you, and there is a child involved. Were they in this position, would they be so quick to take action? Perhaps, but I do not think they would do so without considerable regrets.”
He nodded. He could not disagree with that. He thought the only thing rushing into that decision would get them was regret. If there was only obligation and fear motivating the marriage, it was sure to sour quickly. All that would exist was resentment, and that would mean a lifetime of bitterness. No one should want that. A slow, informed decision made by both parties was for the best of all concerned.
“I do not think that we should make any sort of decisions or judgments just yet.”
“Me, either.” She gave him a smile, and he found himself smiling back. He did not know why she always seemed to coax that out of him. She had a sweetness to her, and even with her strength that he admired so much, she had a bit of vulnerability to her that was just as appealing.
He stopped, cursing himself for the thought. He would not and did not think she was appealing. He was not going to let himself start complicating things or give in to the ideas that the others were trying to force upon them. She was not his wife, she did not have to be his wife, and he would not trick himself into caring for her when he shouldn’t. He would not force either of them to act that way, no matter what her family or neighbors might think.
“What is it?”
“Something from the war?”
He thought about agreeing with her, even though it was a lie, but he had just spoken with her about trust and wanting to be worthy of hers. He did not—could not—lie. “No. I was just thinking, but it was not about the war. Do not worry about it. I am just… I am still very confused by all of this, and sorting out how I feel and what should be done is not easy. I do not know how to find this man, though a part of me thinks that I should be able to, since he is not the stranger I would have thought he was. He did more than pick a name at random. He picked mine on purpose, and he knew enough about me to where he might have fooled people who know of me. That is what bothers me. The connection. There must be one, yet I can think of none.”
She ran a hand over her stomach, and he wondered if the baby was kicking again. He was tempted to touch her again, but he would not. That line would not be crossed a second time. “Is there anyone from the earlier part of the war who was injured and sent home? Or disciplined and expelled from your unit? Someone perhaps not close to you yet aware of enough to give some pretense, someone who might have thought that you had a better life than he did or… Or even was so shell-shocked that he took your name in order to escape who he was? Is that absurd?”
Robert shook his head. “No, it’s not. It’s actually a very intriguing theory. I do not remember anyone, but I can ask for the records on my unit and see. Perhaps if we could distribute that picture to other men in my unit, they might know him when I do not.”
She smiled. “That sounds almost like we have a plan.”
“It does. Thank you for suggesting it.”
“Oh, it is not my plan—”
“You were the one that theorized that he was from my unit. Therefore, we owe this bit of a plan to you. Do not argue with me. You deserve the credit.”
She laughed. “Very well, if you insist, though I hardly want the blame if it is not what we expect it to be in the end.”
“If I promise not to blame you?”
“Then I accept.”